I’ve trawled the archives, but I haven’t found anything in the breakups tag addressing the overlap of
1) Nothing is glaringly wrong
2) I live with this person
Also, I’m definitely overthinking this.
I’m a woman who is living with my boyfriend. On the whole, I enjoy dating him and living with him, but I’m starting to think this is not the person I want to be with for the rest of my life. No big flashing GET OUT NOW signs or anything like that, just an overwhelming sense of “this is fine for now, but not forever”.
So, if I know I want to break up with him eventually, is it unethical to stay with him for the next couple of years while he finishes school? He’s a student, and there’s a good chance he’d have to drop out (due to housing instability) if we broke up. I don’t want that to happen. And like, I love this man! I generally enjoy dating him! But it feels… icky to decide to leave and then not Go for another two years.
Agh! What’s the ethical thing to do here?
Thank you ❤
May I issue a the strongest possible recommendation against staying in a relationship that you’re planning to end –for years (!!!)–without telling the other person how you feel or what you intend. Lying to people you love, purportedly for their own good, in a way that takes away their choices? This is not the way.
When you end an important relationship, there is no perfect way to deliver the news, there is no way to prevent the other person from getting hurt and upset, there is almost never a magic reason you can offer that will make it all right , and there is no way to plan for every possible eventuality. May I suggest the following order of operations, to be adapted as you see fit?
First, I see a lot of worry about how a break up will affect your partner, but almost none about what will happen to you. It’s time for you to daydream yourself into your new life, one where you are only responsible for you. If you knew for sure that you were breaking up, say, a month from now, what would work best for your housing, education, and career options? What are your emergency funds like? Who could you call on for moral support, a place to crash, and other help? What would make all of this as easy and painless as possible for you? Thinking this all through doesn’t mean committing to any specific course of action, but I want you to remind yourself that you have options before you make any big decisions.
Next, when you’re ready, tell your boyfriend how you feel and give him a little time to react and make his own plans. One kindness you could do here is to take responsibility for the decision and make it as sure and as unambiguous as possible. “I’m so sorry to say this, but my feelings have changed, and I want to break up.” When he asks why, do your best to make the “whys” about yourself, and don’t seek to justify it by listing his perceived shortcomings or convince him that this is for his own good. He didn’t do anything wrong, but your feelings have changed. You’ve realized that, while you love him, you don’t see yourself together in the long term. The fact that you want to break up is a good enough reason, you don’t need to manufacture an airtight case to convince him that it’s the right thing to do.
After that, maybe after everyone’s had a few days to process, it’s time to talk logistics: Who moves out, who stays, how and when does that happen? If you need to continue sharing the living space for a while, what are the ground rules and expectations for that? This is where I suggest getting extremely boring and specific, especially about money, space, and time. “For the next two months, howabout I’ll sleep in room A, you can sleep in room B, headphones and/or a closed door on either of our parts means ‘I’m not here’ unless there’s an emergency, we’ll split the bills this way, we’ll both agree not to bring any new partners or dates back here, and we’ll both do our best to give each other a lot of space and be considerate roommates while we find our footing.” Keep in mind, he most likely hasn’t been doing the same planning you have, so it’s okay if he needs a little time to catch up. When in doubt, “Ideally, how would you like to handle ______?” is a good question to keep things constructive.
Once you’ve made & communicated the decisions, the sad, awkward grieving time starts for both of you. It’s not fun, nor is it avoidable, but also, it doesn’t last forever.
You mention that breaking up and living separately might jeopardize your boyfriend’s housing situation, and that’s not a silly fear. The question “But where will I live now?” will almost certainly come up in some form once he knows you want to leave the relationship. Here’s the thing: You don’t have to have the answer or solve the problem. Breaking up means recusing yourself from planning the other person’s future. While it may not seem so, living with you is not the only choice he has. Roommates and shared housing options exist, on-campus housing exists, applying to become a Resident Assistant in exchange for free or less expensive on-campus housing exists, taking a semester off to work and save up exists, friends and family exist,* student loans exist (they SUCK, but they exist, and keeping students in school during a reversal in fortune is one of the things they’re actually for). Honestly, now, when he’s a student, might be the time he has the most outside resources and assistance available to him. I don’t know what his exact set of options looks like, and I won’t claim that they are all great compared to the life he planned with you, but I know that your partner had to figure out where and how to live long before he met you, and I trust that he will figure it out now. Of course, if you are in a position to put some “get back on your feet” funds aside for him without jeopardizing your own financial situation, that would be a very kind thing to do, but it’s not a requirement before you’re allowed to sever the romantic relationship.
[*Note: I don’t know if this applies to you, but over the years I’ve received many letters from people who are worried that if they break up, their partner will lose their “only person.” Even if that’s true, and the partner has managed to cultivate and maintain absolutely zero ties outside of the romantic relationship, it doesn’t fall to their soon-to-be-ex to make up for all other people on earth by staying in a situation that they don’t want to be in. In your case, if he’s a good, likable, pleasant guy that you’ve enjoyed dating, there’s absolutely no reason to think he wouldn’t be able to find someone equally great down the road. ]
It’s admirable that you are thinking about how a breakup will affect your partner, but withdrawing from a relationship means withdrawing from both responsibility for and control of the other person’s choices. Being honest with your boyfriend means giving him information that is essential to his ability to make good choices for himself. If he needs to plan for a future on his own, then it’s important that he knows that as soon as possible. Assumptions that he will be utterly helpless without you or that staying with him when you’re secretly planning to be gone is some kind of favor are kind to no one.
P.S. Surprise! Comments are open. I repeat: Comments are open on this post, at least for the next few days.. I want to hear from readers who have experienced Pretty Good Breakups, ones where even though there was crying and moving house and money stuff and difficult logistics, everybody was maximally considerate and kind under the circumstances. What specific thing did an ex do to make life easier for you, what did you do to make it easier for them, and how did it all turn out?
P.P.S. The spam filter still eats legitimate comments, so please do not worry if your comment does not appear immediately. I’ll release them as I can throughout the day.